Fran Drescher made her decision to run for president of SAG-AFTRA while lying in bed one night at her home in Malibu, listening to the calming sounds of the Pacific Ocean. “Everything was quiet,” she recalled, “and I meditated on the question of whether I should take on this challenge and accept the proposal that has been presented to me. It came to me that everything that I have done in my life has led me to this one defining moment.”
In her first Q&A since announcing her candidacy earlier this month, The Nanny star says she intends to be a unifying force to mend the “dysfunctional division in this union.” Drescher, who’s running at the top of the union’s ruling Unite for Strength party to succeed Gabrielle Carteris, is making her first bid for union office but says she has plenty of real-world experience – and enough “hope, optimism and fresh ideas” – to get the job done. She’ll be squaring off against Matthew Modine, who leads the Membership First opposition party.
Here, she responded in writing to 10 questions posed by Deadline.
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DEADLINE: What made you decide to run?
FRAN DRESCHER: I hope to unify our membership, to move us into the 21st century. I want us to be stronger, healthier and wealthier. It’s time to leverage our creative force for economic gain, to bring reason & fairness along with influence & strength to the negotiating table. I will always fight to strengthen benefits for ALL members.
DEADLINE: What makes you the best candidate?
DRESCHER: I’m a visionary and a leader who’s prepared to play the hand that’s been dealt to me. To optimistically move forward with confidence by seizing creative opportunities that have not yet been considered. I have clear ideas for exploring fresh pathways to generate money for our members, beyond just going to the same well.
Also, through my personal journey as a cancer survivor, I learned to turn my pain into purpose. I successfully passed a health bill in Washington by unanimous consent. I was written up twice on the Congressional Record accommodating my efforts and accomplishment.
I was appointed the vetted position of U.S. State Department Public Diplomacy Envoy for Health during [the] Bush ‘43 administration by Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice, a title I held through the Obama administration under Secretary [Hillary] Clinton that I continue to hold to this day. I was also named one of the top five celebrity lobbyists in D.C. by Washingtonian alongside Bono, Jolie, Pitt and Clooney.
I am the founder and president of the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer Movement. And, I intend to bring my hard-earned experience and unique skill sets to work on behalf of the members. I know we need a stronger presence on the national stage so that we, as a large constituency, have greater legislative influence with elected officials.
DEADLINE: What is your vision for the future of SAG-AFTRA?
DRESCHER: I see reunification as one great and powerful SAG-AFTRA body as the only way to frontline for empowering and protecting members. Whether it’s compensation, residuals, safety protections, enforcement, protections from harassment, legislative advocacy, increasing work opportunities, working with our sister organizations in the industry, expanding work opportunities and making sure our contracts stay ahead of technological changes—as the vanguard of the industry, UNITED WE STAND.
DEADLINE: How has the union impacted your life and career?
DRESCHER: Joining the ranks as a professional actor happened when I was lucky enough to become a union member. It has meant a lot to me. The fact that from the beginning of my career I have had the union to support my best interests when I’m on the set made all the difference as to what my experience was like – from my turn around, to my base pay, what my residuals should be, who is protecting me, who I can call.
Historically, the industry had not done well by actors and the reason unionizing became a necessity. Fredrick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” Throughout the ages, actors and performers have been subjected to disrespect and their ability to earn a living compromised. Society and culture without the arts, without a mechanism to deliver information, is a dark age.
So I feel like I’m fortunate that I became a professional actor in a time when I had both Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA to support me. And now as a collaborative union, the sky’s the limit.
DEADLINE: SAG-AFTRA is a deeply divided union. If elected, what will you do to unify the factions?
DRESCHER: I would love to see us all unite as one under the flag of SAG-AFTRA. As somebody that has sat across the table from both network executives and studio heads, I feel like I have developed a skill set where I can quietly listen to what someone is saying and extrapolate the essence of their concerns. I may not always agree with their solutions, but I always respect & try to legitimize the person’s discontent so I can best problem-solve.
Our members actually have a lot in common. We need to aim towards that realization, for unity. Most importantly, we need to focus on the things that really unite us: safety, dignity of work, good wages and enforcement.
DEADLINE: What advantage, or disadvantage, is there to being a newcomer to SAG-AFTRA politics?
DRESCHER: For me, I think it’s a great advantage because I’m not jaded. I come in with objectivity. I have learned in my life that when you enter a situation with a lot of hope, optimism and fresh ideas, it’s easier to get the job done than if you’ve been beaten down, already anticipating negativity, or wallowing in past feuds.
I’ve been successful in leadership positions in all different facets of life. At the helm, you need somebody who is a visionary that has been successful in leadership positions over and over again. It’s essential to have someone who is in the mix and on the cutting edge of what is happening now. I am a person who turns hard-lived life experiences into wisdom, and it’s those life lessons I will bring to the table.
DEADLINE: Can you share any of the advice you received before making your decision to run?
DRESCHER: Well, first of all, people who know me very well and know my level of accomplishments, who have a deep understanding of the way I process things, all felt that the union would benefit by my involvement. That was meaningful to me.
I was advised to do my research and encouraged to speak my mind. They know that I trust my heart but I also listen closely to the expressions of others so that I can understand them. Without real understanding, compromise is impossible.
We are all in this together. That’s the very essence of union and my approach to all concerns.
DEADLINE: Did Gabrielle Carteris reach out to you, and if so, what did she say? (Carteris, who is backing her, told Deadline: “I told her to speak her truth. She is so well-equipped to be the next leader of the organization that she really doesn’t need much advice. I just told her to be who she is and keep inspiring. She is a powerhouse. Everybody comes to this in their own time, and this is her time to take that leadership position. Her vision is so positive and inventive. She’s such a breath of fresh air. I’m on calls with her every day, and she always thinks outside the box.”)
DRESCHER: When she called to ask if I wanted to run, Gabrielle already knew a lot about me. While many people only know me as The Nanny, longtime friends know my capabilities and know that I am not afraid to challenge the status quo. I’m not afraid to fix what’s broken. I’m not afraid to look at what is and say, “This could be better.” Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean there may not be a better way today.
Don’t forget, one of the most daunting things you face as a writer is looking at a blank page – you have to create something that wasn’t there before. I know how to do that. Every time I put my name to something, I change and adjust it from the way it’s always been, because I always look for a better, more efficient, more streamlined, fairer, more economic way of doing things.
I’m not afraid to take apart and re-create a system that’s inefficient or broken. I asked a lot of questions of Gabrielle and she always offered intelligent and informative responses. She encouraged me to use my creativity and experience to take the union to the next level. I found the people who are involved in the current administration to be level-headed, intelligent, well-intentioned, and have a deep understanding of the mechanics of the union.
DEADLINE: What was the pitch from Unite for Strength’s leadership?
DRESCHER: Well, first of all, the name itself is a platform that I’m running on. We must unite this union, we must unite for strength. That’s a no-brainer. “United we stand, divided we fall.” There is no way we are going to benefit at the negotiating table as a dysfunctional or divided union.
I like the fact that Gabrielle has been so deeply involved in all of the various contract negotiations, not just actors’ negotiations. Every place across the nation is of interest to me. I recognize that there has been a real concerted effort to be inclusive of every member and their needs. I find that very impressive, a huge undertaking.
Gabrielle’s commitment to inclusivity has been a great benefit to everyone across the country and something I’m excited to carry forward. The fact that this current administration was able to unionize Telemundo, when a new network had not been organized in five decades, is something that inspired me. They have provided a strong foundation and encouraged me to add my own successes. We should make the most of that and invigorate ourselves with a love of the union.
DEADLINE: When were you approached to run? I ask because there appears to have been something of a last-minute effort to meet the deadline to get the required 200 signing petitions needed for your candidacy.
DRESCHER: I have been asked to run for federal office by both sides of the party line. Ultimately, I didn’t because, as a cancer survivor, I felt that the bitter partisanship that existed was not a healthy place for me to enter. At that time, I decided I could do more good using my celebrity as a public speaker than being thrown down Jacob’s ladder.
That’s why when I was approached to run for president of SAG-AFTRA, I needed to think long and hard. I don’t make decisions without being very quiet, waiting to hear my inner voice, my heart wisdom, to tell me what is my truth. I don’t make a decision out of ego, but out of what is my truth.
Because there is so much dysfunctional division in this union, I was nervous that it could be unhealthy, physically, for me, which I had to really think about. One night I laid in bed and the ocean was quiet, everything was quiet. And I meditated on the question of whether I should take on this challenge and accept the proposal that has been presented to me. It came to me that everything that I have done in my life has led me to this one defining moment.
There may be other people running, but only one person like me. The members should get to know me and decide if my brand of leadership, forthrightness, honesty and global vision are right for them.
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